Ambiguity and uncertainty continue to cloud the current state of affairs in Uzbekistan, whose long-serving leader has been incapacitated since having a stroke on Aug 27. Unconfirmed reports suggested that Karimov died on Aug. 29, though his daughter, Lola Karimova-Tillyaeva, said Aug. 31 that the president was still alive and in stable condition. On the same day, an unnamed source told the Russian Regnum News Agency that Karimov had gotten up from his bed for a short time.
While the status of the 78-year-old Karimov remains unclear, it seems likely that the serious nature of his illness and his age will prevent him from resuming his presidential duties any time soon, if ever. So speculation over a succession — which would be unprecedented, since Karimov has served as Uzbekistan's only president since it gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 — has been rife. Three candidates — Mirziyoyev, Deputy Prime Minister Rustam Azimov and security services chief Rustam Inoyatov — are widely seen as the front-runners for the position. Inoyatov is seen as the least likely choice, however, given his own advanced age (72) and the role he already plays wielding influence over the country's political system from behind the scenes.
That leaves Mirziyoyev and Azimov as Karimov's two likeliest successors. Though there have been no official statements from the Uzbek government on the succession process, there have been indications that Mirziyoyev is preparing to claim the presidency. On Aug. 30, Azimov was reported to have been placed under house arrest, which, if true, could indicate that the deputy premier is being sidelined in the succession process. His office denied the unconfirmed report, but Azimov has made neither a public appearance nor issued any official statements since Karimov's incapacitation.
In the meantime, Mirziyoyev's Aug. 31 participation in the flower-laying ceremony at the independence monument carries symbolic significance that suggests he could be next in line for Karimov's post. If he does deliver an independence day address to the nation, it would conceivably confirm his position as the country's next president.
There are still factors, however, that could delay or even prevent Mirziyoyev from assuming the presidential mantle. Legally, in the event of Karimov's confirmed death, presidential powers would be transferred to the speaker of the Senate, a position held by little-known Nigmatilla Yuldashev. Notably, he appeared with Mirziyoyev at the Aug. 31 ceremony, meaning a transfer of power to Yuldashev cannot be ruled out. Neighboring Turkmenistan, which has similar legal guidelines, experienced its own succession in 2006. Its Senate speaker was immediately arrested, removing him from the succession discussion. That a similar situation has not occurred in Uzbekistan may indicate that Yuldashev is being considered.
Still, events so far seem to put Mirziyoyev at the head of the pack, assuming that Karimov is dead or unable to recover sufficiently to resume his duties. Whether he is appointed directly or assumes the post after a presidential election, it appears as though Mirziyoyev is preparing to fill the president's role. Timing a formal announcement and addressing any dissent or blowback to the selection of a successor remain an issue, with clan rivalries and regional political differences likely to weigh heavily in the process. This is probably why the Uzbek government and Karimov's family are waiting to make formal statements on the president's health or outline the next political steps. But all signs point to Mirziyoyev as the main figure to watch as Uzbekistan's succession process plays out.